Portland/Deering girls continue surge with win over Winslow/Gardiner

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Portland/Deering junior Emily Demers, right, receives congratulations after scoring one of her three goals in Wednesday’s 5-2 home victory over Winslow/Gardiner.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—Nine days after a season-altering victory, it appears that nothing’s going to stop the resurgent Portland/Deering girls’ hockey team.

Portland/Deering opened the calendar year with a pivotal win over Cheverus and Wednesday afternoon at Troubh Ice Arena, continued to ride that momentum with a hard-fought home victory over Winslow/Gardiner.

The Black Tigers struck first just 17 seconds into a penalty-plagued first period, when senior Sarah Stevens scored, but with 4:18 to go in the first, Portland/Deering junior standout Emily Demers scored her first goal on the power play to tie the score.

After being frustrated on multiple occasions by Winslow/Gardiner senior goalie Cassandra Demers, Emily Demers struck again, short-handed, with 6:28 remaining in the second period to give Portland/Deering the lead, but the Black Tigers drew even with 3:51 to go when junior Anna Chadwick scored an acrobatic goal.

Portland/Deering then went on top to stay when Demers completed her hat trick, again scoring short-handed, with 4.1 seconds on the clock.

Then, just 26 seconds into the third period, Portland/Deering got some breathing room when freshman Caroline Lerch scored, again short-handed, and with 8:24 on the clock, freshman Emma Merrill scored on the power play and Portland/Deering went on to a 5-2 victory.

Portland/Deering won its seventh game in a row, improved to 9-3 and in the process, dropped Winslow/Gardiner to 7-4-1.

“That was a little ugly,” said first-year Portland/Deering coach Tom Clifford. “Probably not our best performance this year, but I think that the girls did what they needed to do to win. They competed much harder in the third period.”

Turnaround

After winning just once in 18 games last winter, Portland/Deering has been one of the best stories of the 2017-18 season. Portland/Deering started with a 9-2 home win over Brunswick, then lost at home to Greely, 12-1, and at York in overtime (7-6). After a 10-4 victory at Yarmouth/Freeport, Portland/Deering was blanked at home by Cheverus, 6-0. After closing the 2017 portion of its schedule with a win over host Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete/South Portland (5-0), a first-ever victory over visiting Scarborough (8-3) and home wins over York (4-1) and Gorham/Bonny Eagle (10-2), Portland/Deering rang in the new year with a 4-3 overtime victory over Cheverus in the “City Cup.”

“That was amazing,” said Emily Demers. “It was my first “City Cup.” It felt awesome and it was amazing for the entire team.”

“(That win) was off the charts,” Clifford said. “That was the time the girls sat in the locker room after and had figured out how to win. Every time Cheverus scored, we responded and that was huge.” 

Saturday, Portland/Deering won at Edward Little/Leavitt, 8-1.

Winslow/Gardiner, which went 10-9 a year ago, losing to Brunswick in the North Division quarterfinals, won seven of its first 11 games, losing only to two-time defending state champion St. Dom’s, Greely and Lewiston and tying Biddeford.

Last year, Winslow/Gardiner beat visiting Portland/Deering, 9-2.

Wednesday, Portland/Deering turned the tables and made the plays at the key times.

The first period featured only a couple of minutes when both teams were at full strength, as they combined for nine penalties.

Winslow/Gardiner won possession of the puck to start the game and senior Evelyn Hinkley sent it across to Stevens, who swatted at it with the backhand and sent it past Portland/Deering senior goalie Adrianna Bodge for a quick 1-0 lead.

Then, the penalties came with a vengeance.

Portland/Deering got its chances with an extra skater, but junior Inez Braceras, freshman Lucy Howe and senior Kit Rosmus all had shots saved by Cassandra Demers.

Emily Demers finally broke through with 4:18 to go in the first, burying Howe’s rebound to tie the score, 1-1.

Demers almost gave the hosts the lead a little over a minute later, but she was robbed.

Later in the first period, Cassandra Demers denied Merrill to keep the game even through 15 minutes.

For much of the second period, Cassandra Demers single-handedly frustrated Emily Demers and kept Portland/Deering off the board.

With 7:27 remaining, the Black Tigers went on the power play, but it would be Portland/Deering breaking through 59 seconds later, as Lerch set up Demers for a 2-1 lead.

Winslow/Gardiner answered right back with 3:51 on the clock, as Chadwick managed to steer the puck past Bodge, despite falling to the ice to tie the game again.

It appeared the score would remain 2-2 heading to the second intermission, but with just 4.1 seconds on the clock, after a scrum in front, Demers completed her hat trick (Lerch and Merrill got assists) and Portland/Deering was in front to stay, 3-2.

“I got very excited to score that one,” Demers said. “It was a great team effort.”

“Emily works hard,” Clifford said. “The nice thing about having her and Emma, they’re good role models and they make everyone up their game. They’ve helped turn us around.” 

Coming out of the break, Portland/Deering got some breathing room, as just 26 seconds in, Lerch scored another short-handed goal, on the backhand (Demers and Merrill got assists), making it 4-2.

After Bodge denied Stevens twice, Portland/Deering scored on the power play, as Merrill did the honors with Lerch and Demers assisting.

From there, Portland/Deering’s defense and Bodge slammed the door, making the 5-2 victory official.

“We were all getting very frustrated with the penalties, but we kept going and played like we usually do,” Demers said. “We picked it up in the third period and came out with a win. We took it to them and we didn’t let them score any goals. We’re really working hard at practice and we work well together. We’re a good team on and off the ice.” 

“Our last couple games, the girls have figured out what to do to be successful and win,” said Clifford. “We had three short-handed goals, which are always backbreakers for one team and a positive thing for the other.

“I think we’ve exceeded expectations, based on the history of the program. You have to learn how to win. It’s taken time, but we’ve figured it out.”

Finishing kick

Winslow/Gardiner returns to action Saturday when Greely pays a visit. Cheverus comes to town Monday.

Portland/Deering, meanwhile, is closing in on the program’s record for wins in a season (10). It’s back in action Saturday at Gorham. Monday, Portland/Deering is home versus Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete/South Portland, then goes to St. Dom’s Wednesday of next week. After playing at Falmouth and hosting Mt. Ararat/Morse, Portland/Deering closes with a home game versus Biddeford Jan. 31.

From there, the sky’s the limit.

“We have to work hard and keep winning,” Demers said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

“Cape and Falmouth have always been up at the top and we have to go to Auburn to take on St. Dom’s,” said Clifford. “Right now, our goal is to play well every shift, every goal, every period. If we play the way we’ve capable of playing, the rest will take care of itself. The ultimate goal is to make the playoffs and have a home game.”

Portland/Deering’s Caroline Lerch has a shot denied by Winslow/Gardiner senior goalie Cassandra Demers.

Portland/Deering’s Emma Merrill goes flying after the puck.

Portland/Deering’s Emily Demers races in on Winslow/Gardiner goalie Cassandra Demers.

Demers then fires the past into the net for the go-ahead goal in the second period.

Portland/Deering’s Emma Merrill fires a shot.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.